BC now experimental drone-zone for Amazon Prime Air
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
Last July, Amazon vice president of global public policy Paul Misener petitioned the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the US for an “experimental airworthiness certificate” for the purposes of testing Amazon Prime Air’s new automated delivery drones.
Eight months later, the FAA reportedly did not reply, so Misener petitioned Transport Canada for approval. Having approved over 1,600 such requests by other companies for drone testing, Transport Canada allowed Amazon to develop an outdoor research and development testing facility in BC at an undisclosed location near the US border.
Amazon Prime Air is currently testing for operation between 200 and 500 feet, which measures to being above the average building, but below general air traffic. This airspace is generally under-used in most aviation because of the flight-risk posed by full-size aircrafts, which are not taking off from or landing on a clear runway.
The drones are designed to travel at 50mph and carry packages of five pounds or less, which covers “86 [per cent] of products sold on Amazon,” according to Misener’s original petition. Prime Air promises to deliver products in 30 minutes or less once the drone prototypes have been perfected.
The FAA has a number of safety concerns relating to small, unmanned aerial system (sUAS) guidance systems and altitude. Given the automated nature of the drones, the FAA deemed testing at the proposed altitude too hazardous without human supervision. The FAA has approved only 48 such test requests in the last year, in stark contrast to Transport Canada’s 1,600.
Outside the United States, there are a number of pioneering companies making similar endeavours. As early as three years ago, a Mexico-based company calling itself Burrito Bomberbegan advertising on the Internet, offering quick delivery of burritos by GPS-guided sUAS. There is a 700 nautical mile airspace in Alberta dedicated to drone testing beyond human line of sight, and the UK has converted a WWII-era Welsh airfield for foreign testing of Prime Air drones.
Spokespeople of the FAA claim that their inertia is justified due to America’s complex airspace. Misener, although similarly safety-minded, stated in a public release, “The US does have a complex airspace, but it’s no more complex than in Europe, where regulators do allow testing, and it’s certainly not complex beneath 500 [feet] or in rural areas of Washington state where we had planned to operate.”
Amazon is poised to spearhead a new trend in goods transportation that will likely expedite the already instantaneous process of e-commerce.